Photo by Simon Pruitt.

Clare Coates is the mother of three young children. Her oldest, Wilson, is an exuberant five-year-old boy, brimming with energy and happiness.

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On a quiet Friday night at the Elks Lodge swimming pool, her worst nightmare struck.

“I took our three year old with me to the restroom and gave our baby to my husband,” Coates says.  “He was scanning back and forth between Wilson and the baby.”

Coates says that Wilson had always been a strong swimmer, and was able to jump into the deep end and swim laps back and forth with no problem.

“My husband lost track of Wilson, then handed the baby off to my friend to look for him,” she says. “He found Wilson on the bottom of the pool. He went in to get him and pull him up on the side of the pool, and shouted to call 911. My husband did CPR on Wilson for about a minute, and then Hillary stepped in.”

Hillary Puckett, a fourth grade science teacher at Lake Highlands Elementary was at the pool that night too. Puckett is CPR certified, and quickly took action once Wilson was pulled out of the pool.

“I’m glad God put me in a place where I was needed,” Puckett says. “It’s very nice that people say ‘hero’ and ‘you’re amazing’  but they don’t know that I relive those few minutes over and over in my head.  I see the father’s shaking hands gripping his son’s cold, wet hand repeatedly in my sleep. I’m not a hero.  I did what I could.”

While her husband and Puckett tended to Wilson, Coates was still unaware of the situation at hand.

“I came out of the bathroom with my son and saw my best friend holding my baby,” she said. “She said they had to perform CPR, and of course I’m not thinking it’s on my son. It just felt like the sentence had the longest pause until she said ‘CPR on Wilson’. I immediately sprinted over to him on the side of the pool. When I got there, Hillary was holding him on his side, and he was throwing up and crying. It just took my breath away.”

Luckily, the combined efforts of Puckett and Coates’ husband resuscitated Wilson in time for paramedics to arrive.

“He finally stopped throwing up when the ambulance got to us. I got on the gurney with him and they put us in the ambulance,” Coates recalled. “His oxygen was really good, which was encouraging. Then he was able to answer his name and his birthday. When got to the hospital, his chest X-ays were clear, he was able to recall and tell me about the event. We left the hospital and he has no memory of the trauma. He has no fear of water. I’m just praising God.”

Even in the face of those terrifying circumstances, Wilson’s youthful joy still reigned supreme.

“On our way to the hospital, I asked him if he wanted me to play his favorite song,” Coates says. “He was so exhausted, but mustered up the energy to request ‘Hit The Road Jack’. He made all the EMTs laugh.”

Since the incident, Wilson has picked up where he left off.

“He’s been right back to himself,” she says. “Watching him ride a bike and go to his first baseball game this week, we’re really just seeing life through a different lens.”

Still, Coates remains shaken from the events on that fateful day.

“I have a lot of flashbacks,” she says. “It’s the images that come to my mind frequently when I think about swimming or even watching Wilson cry. It’s hard.”

Coates and her community have become passionate about promoting poolside safety and encouraging parents to get CPR trained as soon as they can.

“I want to do what I can to educate parents on the importance of being CPR trained,” she says. “I think one of the easiest things parents can do is to put their kids in bright colored swimsuits. Especially at pools where there’s large crowds, it is so stressful already to locate your kid and keep your eyes on them.”

“We’re going to use this to help others and educate people on drowning prevention.”